Malaysia PM Muhyiddin's parliamentary majority hangs in the balance as Umno MP withdraws backing

Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's PN coalition has 50 seats in Malaysia's Parliament.
Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's PN coalition has 50 seats in Malaysia's Parliament.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is on the brink of losing his majority in Parliament after an Umno lawmaker announced he was withdrawing support for the administration.

This leaves the Perikatan Nasional government with command of just half of Malaysia's lower house.

Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, the MP for Machang ward in Kelantan, announced he was withdrawing support for Tan Sri Muhyiddin on Saturday (Jan 9), mere days after he quit as chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).

"I announce my withdrawal from supporting the Perikatan Nasional government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin," Mr Ahmad Jazlan reportedly said during a surprise press conference on Saturday.

His withdrawal means that PN effectively has only 110 lawmakers backing its administration in the 220-member Parliament, and it no longer has the majority to pass legislation without obtaining support from the opposition bench.

Mr Ahmad Jazlan's decision comes days after several Umno leaders indicated that the party is set to withdraw its support for Mr Muhyiddin, which would lead to a collapse of the government.

Though not part of the PN coalition, which comprises Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), Islamist party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Sabah’s Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku, Umno's support for the government is vital, with its 38 MPs - the most among all the governing parties - boosting PN's presence in Parliament. Nonetheless, the party has threatened multiple times to withdraw support for PN.

Another Umno lawmaker, elder statesman Tengku Razaleigh Tengku Hamzah, has termed Mr Muhyiddin's government as "illegitimate" and did not support the latter's first federal budget, passed in December last year with only a two-vote majority. Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh was also one of many lawmakers who tried, unsuccessfully, to get a no-confidence motion against Mr Muhyiddin debated in Parliament.

Two-thirds of Umno's divisions resolved to cut ties with Bersatu - Mr Muhyiddin's party - last week. The divisions' resolutions will be brought to an Umno general assembly scheduled for Jan 31, where a final decision is expected to be made on Umno's continued support for the government.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi revealed on Saturday that the party's top decision-making body - the supreme council - has also supported the motion to cut ties with Bersatu, and the matter will now be put before the party delegates during the upcoming general assembly.

But internal conflicts remain. Mr Annuar Musa, an Umno MP who remains supportive of the PN administration and has consistently called for greater cooperation between Umno and Bersatu, was removed by Ahmad Zahid as Barisan Nasional's secretary-general on Tuesday.

In return, Mr Annuar claimed the following day that Ahmad Zahid had previously issued a letter stating support for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to become Malaysia's next PM.

Datuk Seri Anwar claimed parliamentary majority in September last year, but never publicly disclosed the MPs who supported him. Though he was granted an audience with Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, he has so far failed to convince the monarch of his majority claim.

Mr Muhyiddin's PN coalition - has 50 seats in Malaysia's Parliament. The Barisan Nasional coalition, which is led by Umno, has 42 seats. The rest of the government's backing comes from a coalition of Sarawak parties - Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), one independent MP and another MP from Sabah.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, which is led by Mr Anwar, has 91 seats. But the opposition aisle is also filled with several other parties, such as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pejuang Tanah Airku (Pejuang), Parti Warisan Sabah, and also former Cabinet minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman's Muda party, which caters to youths.

Malaysia's Parliament is not due to sit again until March.